May 01, 2013

The Danger of U.S. Customs Searches for Returning Lawyers

Robert T. Givens

Customs officers have virtually unfettered power to search travelers returning to the United States. How does this power impact lawyers at airports and border crossings—particularly lawyers carrying attorney-client privileged documents and data?

Returning to the United States means going through Customs (formally, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP) at the airport, dock, or land border crossing—a nonevent for most. However, for some travelers, even seasoned ones, when their time comes for close Customs scrutiny, it can be a nightmare of the fist order. In no other context is a U.S. citizen so stripped of rights, legally vulnerable, and ignorant of the consequences of responses to Customs’ routine questions, starting with, “Do you have anything to declare?”

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